Through the hurtling, cosmic shoegaze of ‘Infinite Granite’, Deafheaven embrace the other side of the darkness on their otherworldly fifth album.
Deafheaven‘s arrival more than a decade ago ushered in the era of blackgaze, which turned shoegaze into literally a primal scream. Their presence was like Mr. Hyde shedding the skin of Dr. Jekyll, unveiling a completely different side to a genre that long had been associated with ethereal catharsis. Although over time the San Francisco-based quintet have gradually moved away from the intense darkness, particularly on 2018’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, they have been defined by their harsh and visceral approach – from the walls of the seizing guitars to front-man George Clarke’s wailing vocal. That is until now. Their fifth album, Infinite Granite, reveals a band embracing the light and all its shades in a most beautiful yet emotive way.
For fifty-three minutes, Deafheaven meticulously weave together shoegaze, post-rock, and dream-pop into an endless cosmic journey. Each of the nine songs, too, are connected sonically and lyrically. Nary a break is heard between each track while Clarke’s songwriting is a mix of Isaac Asimov-like sci-fi and Rod Serling-esque surrealism. Despite the otherworldly approach, the album feels very much real, and its tale of self-destruction and -discovery is all too familiar.
“Shellstar” is the perfect opener. Lush, ambient shoegaze notes welcome listeners on board, but moments later Deafheaven takes off. Guided by Daniel Tracy’s jarring drumming, the quintet escape the chains of reality in order to rediscover their humanity. “I question the reason for the freedom in unfeeling / I question the reason in this furnace of revealing”, Clarke plaintively sings before the song surges to its epic finale.
This sense of existing in the netherworld is further accentuated on the multidimensional “In Blur”. The subdued yet tantalizing first half eases listeners in to Deafheaven’s familiar yet new vortex. It glistens with Kerry McCoy and Shiv Mehra’s crystalline guitars and the taut yet urgent rhythm section of Tracy and bassist Chris Jonson. Through the trembling soundscape, Clarke’s hollow yet controlled voice weaves between the textures. He openly questions the faith we attach to our existence.
“In blur, hovered
Unearther, bleeding ark of creation…
Who are you now?“
“Can I accept I’m real?”, Clarke asks on “Great Mass of Color”. A mesmerizing, interstellar dreaminess consumes the first five minutes of the track. But like Mr. Hyde trying to come out, the old Deafheaven is unleashed. The song intensifies as Clarke’s vocal turns harsh and nearly menacing. His final words perfectly encapsulate this story of a man forever trapped. He is like Hemingway’s classic protagonist, the Old Man: “You are the sea and nobody owns you”.
Those words linger during the calm and enchanting “Neptune Raining Diamonds“. This instrumental number was made for an iMAX documentary, holding your attention through the rich, ambient textures. It segues into the melancholic and introspective “Lament for Wasps”. During the sanguine first half, Clarke reveals the demons that dance in his head:
“Another night spent fussing,
Feasting like the lords,
Laughing at the fronting,
Singing to the chords of Hell imagined”
The end, however, is not to come. At least not before meeting the “Villain”. But like the best antagonists, Deafheaven cloak the adversary in intricately-crafted dreaminess. A false sense of security forms, at which point this entity’s true identity is revealed. And it exists inside us. “He’s my own / Driving the talons, my own villain rising”, Clarke delivers first with a whisper and then with a scorching scream in the song’s cataclysmic final minute.
Instead of escaping to a luxurious place, Deafheaven confront the truth on “The Gnashing”. This full-throttle, shoegaze hydrogen bomb is detonated by McCoy, Mehra, Johnson, and Tracy’s electrifying urgency. As the song mimics a hurtling spacecraft, the brakes are suddenly pressed. After a brief pause, the track turns dark, gripping, and sinister. At this point, Clarke sings, “Now I see you’re weeping with reason”, as he finally understands that no matter where he goes in the future his past will catch up to him.
In tender oceans spilling crimson
A leaking thimble flowing fragile
Oozing tension into blue”
The band tread lightly at first on “Other Language”, which like many of the album’s previous songs intensifies until it reaches close to oblivion. “Navel gazing birds escaping / Before the quake comes crashing / Waiting in the light to die”, Clarke nonchalantly states as his band mates rain fury around him. These words foreshadow the record’s final chapter. Calm and serene at first, “Mombasa” is the protagonist’s eulogy. But this is Deafheaven, who will not go away quietly. In the final three minutes, Mr. Hyde reveals himself one last time. Through his primal scream, he utters: “Travel now / Where they can’t let you down / Where you can’t fail them now.” Through the electrifying static, peace is finally found. And a great band has fully embraced the other side of the darkness.
Deafheaven are: George Clarke, Kerry McCoy, Daniel Tracy, Shiv Mehra, and Chris Johnson. Infinite Granite is out now on Sargent House. Purchase and streaming links are available here or get it directly on Bandcamp.
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